Industrial competition of sewing machine
Elias Howe, born in Spencer, Massachusetts, created his sewing machine in 1845, using a similar method to Fisher's except that the fabric was held vertically. An important improvement on his machine was to have the needle running away from the point, starting from the eye. After a lengthy stay in England trying to attract interest in his machine, he returned to America to find various people infringing his patent, among them Isaac Merritt Singer. He eventually won a case for patent infringement in 1854 and was awarded the right to claim royalties from the manufacturers using ideas covered by his patent, including Singer.
Singer had seen a rotary sewing machine being repaired in a Boston shop. As an engineer, he thought it was clumsy and decided to design a better one. The machine he devised used a falling shuttle instead of a rotary one; the needle was mounted vertically and included a presser foot to hold the cloth in place. It had a fixed arm to hold the needle and included a basic tension system. This machine combined elements of Thimonnier, Hunt and Howe's machines. Singer was granted an American patent in 1851. The foot treadle used since the Middle Ages, used to convert reciprocating to rotary motion, was adapted to drive the sewing machine, leaving both hands free.
Meanwhile, Allen B. Wilson developed a shuttle that reciprocated in a short arc, which was an improvement over Singer and Howe's. However, John Bradshaw had patented a similar device and threatened to sue, so Wilson decided to try a new method. He went into partnership with Nathaniel Wheeler to produce a machine with a rotary hook instead of a shuttle. This was far quieter and smoother than other methods, with the result that the Wheeler & Wilson Company produced more machines in the 1850s and 1860s than any other manufacturer. Wilson also invented the four-motion feed mechanism that is still used on every sewing machine today. This had a forward, down, back and up motion, which drew the cloth through in an even and smooth motion. Charles Miller patented the first machine to stitch buttonholes. Throughout the 1850s more and more companies were being formed, each trying to sue the others for patent infringement. This triggered a patent thicket known as the Sewing Machine War.
In 1856, the Sewing Machine Combination was formed, consisting of Singer, Howe, Wheeler, Wilson, and Grover and Baker. These four companies pooled their patents, with the result that all other manufacturers had to obtain a license for $15 per machine. This lasted until 1877 when the last patent expired.
James Edward Allen Gibbs (1829–1902), a farmer from Raphine in Rockbridge County, Virginia patented the first chain stitch single-thread sewing machine on June 2, 1857. In partnership with James Willcox, Gibbs became a principal partner in Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company. Willcox & Gibbs commercial sewing machines are still used in the 21st century, with spares parts available.